CHARLES MERRILL: Main Street Broker

CHARLES MERRILL With a fervent belief in the small investor as the foundation of the stock market, Good Time Charlie made America the shareholder nation

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    By Merrill's death, in 1956, the firm had some 400,000 clients and had become the largest brokerage in the country, a distinction it holds to this day. But Merrill died a sorely disappointed man. Wall Street had not rushed to follow his example, as he had hoped, and the majority of the country, still scarred by the memory of the Depression, was not ready to plunge back into stocks. He was simply too far ahead of his time.

    There are many other people--mutual-fund pioneer Ned Johnson at Fidelity Investments and discount broker Charles Schwab, to name two--who over the course of the next 40 years helped push Wall Street and Main Street closer together. Yet for all their innovations, they remain at bottom Merrill's heirs. Their modern investing mantra is the same basic message he preached so many years ago-- that people should invest for the long haul; that they should have a clear understanding of the companies they are buying; that despite the hair-raising ups and downs, stocks have historically outperformed every other form of investment. Today the stock market no longer belongs to insiders. It belongs to all of us. We all now partake in its gains, just as we share in its losses--and who among us would argue that it should be any other way? Good Time Charlie Merrill's lonely voice has become America's common wisdom.

    Joseph Nocera is an editor at large at FORTUNE and author of A Piece of the Action

    Investing in America

    As the U.S. rose to become the world's most powerful economy, its industries needed capital to grow and prosper. Visionary bankers, brokers and investors have shown the way.

    Played a crucial role in financing America's industrial boom. Through Pittsburgh, Pa.'s Mellon Bank, he became a driving force behind Alcoa, Gulf Oil, Union Steel, McClintic-Marshall and other giants. He is credited with bringing on the prosperity of the 1920s while serving as Secretary of the Treasury.

    Saw the potential of high-yield bonds to raise capital for risky ventures. From an office in Beverly Hills, Calif., he bankrolled upstart companies and fostered the '80s takeover mania by financing corporate raiders. Imprisoned after pleading guilty to fraud in 1988, he is now a consultant, health activist and philanthropist.

    Was an early backer of such tech firms as Apple, Teledyne and Fairchild Semiconductor and a founder of Intel. Famous for investing his own money in technology start-ups, San Francisco-based Rock has led a new generation of venture capitalists that is driving the greatest creation of wealth in history.

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